Facebook could face parliamentary panel
Email chain shows head of public policy sought to recruit public servants
OTTAWA—Facebook Canada could face a parliamentary committee after the Star revealed the company’s head of public policy attempted to recruit within the federal public service.
The opposition New Democrats are asking the Heritage Committee to call Facebook Canada’s Kevin Chan to testify about what they call “worrying relations” between the social media giant and the federal government.
The move comes after the NDP unearthed a February email chain where Chan requested a senior bureaucrat in the heritage department — which is jointly responsible for coming up with regulations for companies like Facebook — circulate a posting for a high-paying job with the company among “promising” public servants.
The motion, which the NDP intends to bring forward Thursday, would request testimony from Chan as well as Steven Guilbeault, the heritage minister, and the department’s deputy minister. The NDP are also looking for any job posting Facebook shared with the government dating back to November 2015, when the current government was elected.
The federal Liberals have been promising regulations for social media and internet giants for years, as companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon have replaced or revolutionized how Canadians get information, connect with each other and spend money. The government is expected to unveil legislation in the coming weeks that addresses the massive role these companies play in Canadians’ day-to-day lives.
Heather McPherson, the New Democrats’ critic for heritage issues, acknowledged that all political parties — including the NDP — make use of Facebook, which has become one of the world’s most powerful political organizing tools. But McPherson said that because of the influence of Facebook on politics, there must be clear lines between the social media company and the government.
“Because of that relationship, because that is a tool that is part of political discourse now, it’s even more important that there be a distance between the government of the day and senior staff within these companies,” McPherson said in an interview with the Star Monday. “That makes it even more important that they’re not … swapping staff back and forth.”
Facebook Canada did not respond to a request for comment Monday. There is no indication that the company routinely headhunts within the public service. The company did not hire a public servant for the job Chan was advertising within Canadian Heritage.
The Star reported last week that Chan emailed a senior bureaucrat at Canadian Heritage, Owen Ripley, in February to advertise a high-paying job with the company’s small Canadian public policy team.
“I promise the most challenging and fascinating experience, and the base pay is about EX3,” Chan wrote, referring to a senior position in the public service with a salary range between $140,900 and $165,700.
“Are there any promising senior analysts or EX1s in the public service that you can think of that might be a good fit?”
The public policy world in Canada is a small one, and it makes sense that Facebook would be interested in recruiting as widely as possible — but only a few months before, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped Guilbeault’s department to help with regulations to protect Canadian content and media organizations from companies like Facebook. The company has snapped up a significant share of the online advertising business, which has added to the difficulty facing Canadian media outlets.